Blitzen Trapper's Furr
, was the most grievously under-appreciated album of 2008. More joy per square inch than anything released that year, save the Fleet Foxes debut, this Oregon band dipped liberally into rock history, (Bolan, Bowie, Dylan) without ever sounding like anything other than themselves. With songs like the achingly beautiful "Not Your Lover," the spooky travelogue "Black River Killer" and the title track which describes the transformative power of love and the simultaneous unavoidable longing for freedom, (What, you really thought it was about werewolves?) Eric Earley showed gifts as a writer that surprised at every turn.
Suffice it to say, expectations for Blitzen Trapper's new record, Destroyer of the Void
, were dangerously high. When the multi-tracked vocals of the 6:17 title track kick in, it's clear the band are trying to get their "Bohemian Rhapsody" on. Normally, these kinds of song suites are saved for the end of an album. (See Abbey Road
, side two) Full of mythic imagery, "A serpent spoke to me..." and seven distinct sections, it's a jarring choice for an opener and they just don't pull it off. After this heavy-handed prog-rock misstep, things improve dramatically and Blitzen Trapper return to their stock-in trade: three and a half minute tunes, soaked in tradition, that are as well-written, musically clever and lyrically strange as anything out there.
Earley seems to have abandoned the tinny Kinks sounds and T Rex glam nods that made Furr
such an entertaining listen, in favor of full on Beatles absorption. But he also takes care to include Lennon's solo work in "Sadie" and McCartney's in "Laughing Lover." Unlike many of his contemporaries, Earley's reference points are blink and you'll miss them, sometimes only lasting for five seconds. He can jump between Bad Company, The Band, Lynyrd Skynrd, Big Star and Elton John in the same song and somehow still retain his eccentric individuality.
The closest thing to a potential breakthrough pop moment here is the lovely lush ballad, "Heaven and Earth," which features well-orchestrated, Eleanor Rigby-ish strings and an unsettling, end of the worldview. "Over the western world/Shadows fall/Under the dying trees we call together/Still to feel the breeze/To shatter all these waking dreams we've told ourselves/To keep us free and clean." There are frequent references to sea, sky and earth, not in a preachy, save the whales kind of way, but as future nostalgia, as if from the perspective of someone who lives in a time where all these things are irrevocably polluted. (Some might call that the present)
Satisfying highlights abound, including the double unison guitar riff of "Evening Star," the folky simplicity of "The Tree," featuring Alela Diane playing Baez to Earley's Dylan and the moody Blind Faith and Nick Drake infused acoustic picking of "Below the Hurricane." In general, the music is kinder and gentler on this, the bands fifth release. Spiky edges have been softened, sometimes to the bands disadvantage. Occasionally Earley leads us down some unrewarding lyrical paths "I'm the tailor of the earth and electricity.." and truth be told, his jittery chord changing and restless melodies can wear on the ear, like on the seemingly directionless "Lover Leave Me Drowning." But considering his talent level, it's only natural he should overreach at times. He characterizes "Sadie" as a "..cheap love song." Much as he might like to compose the next "Stairway to Heaven," and I certainly wouldn't put it past him, Earley might have to settle for being one of the best pop songwriters of his generation. -dan siegler
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MP3: "Heaven and Earth" (Destroyer Of The Void)
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